When you’re in charge of more than one person, say by running a business or keeping track of kids, it helps to collect and organize information about everyone’s schedules, be it in a list or calendar. Externalizing your daily priorities clears some space in your head for other things that need to happen, or, in other words, helps your mind stay sane and uncluttered. Making a to-do list should be more empowering than disheartening, but toeing that line can feel like walking a tight rope. Between work for Wish with the Sky Foundation and being a mother of 4, here are some insights I’ve learned over the years.
Having everyone’s schedules in one place is a blessing. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have last-minute meetings or pull out important flyers from your child’s backpack the night before something important is happening, or other unpredictable event like car trouble or illness. The beauty of a to do list is that you can ideally shift around your priorities to accommodate these snafus. It can also be a nice reference point that brings you back to center when those outside forces come into play- all you have to do is refer to your list and get back on track!
When your to-do list starts becoming a script for your life, or you start getting anxiety around completing all the items in a given day, you have probably crossed the line from helpful into harmful. If writing down a list of what you have to do in a given day is stressful, it might be time to find a new approach to getting organized. You may even consider breaking up with to-do lists altogether- and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You might consider reimagining the way you approach a to-do list. One alternative is the 1-3-5 list, where you pick one “big” thing, 3 medium level things, and 5 small things that you will accomplish. For other alternative list structures, take a look at this article from Work Awesome.
Rather than nixing to do lists altogether, it might be a good idea to build in some balance. Create some time, be it a couple hours each day, or setting aside the weekend, to be agenda-less. It doesn’t mean you have to float around and do nothing, just that you mentally free yourself from creating a list. After all, an agenda does not make life any more or less important. Let yourself (and your kids) enjoy a bit of time here and there without worrying what you’re supposed to go to next.
Moderation is the key. For the important things, like meetings, practices, rehearsals, etc., it’s important to keep track of what’s going on. But if every waking moment is dictated by this list, it will start to feel more like a burden than a tool. Life wasn’t meant to be an itemized list of things to check off! Not accomplishing everything you’d initially hoped to in a day is ok- you are wherever you need to be in a given moment. The to-do list is a guide, not a rulebook.